Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto ‘La Notte’ in G minor RV104
Concerto for guitar in D major RV93
Concerto in F major RV100
Concerto in D major RV92
Francesco MANCINI (1672-1737)
Sonata No.4 in A minor
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
Sonata No.9 in A minor
Concordi Musici (Leonard Munsuk Kwon (recorder), Rebecca Huber, Tomasz Plusa (violins), Ji Yun Kang (cello), Josep Casadella (bassoon), Cristian Gutierrez (guitar, theorbo), Eduardo Valorz (harpsichord))
rec. 23-24 March 2010, Oud-Katholieke Kerk, Delft

As external bookings manager for an international music conservatoire, I’m regularly given demo CDs which are useful for hearing what students are up to. It’s less frequent that someone approaches me with a genuinely commercial product, so when recorder player Leonard Kwon handed me this nicely produced and highly professional CD I was more than interested.

Music education at the highest level is such that anyone who is going to ‘make it’ has probably already ‘made it’ while still registered somewhere as a student. When I was at the Royal Academy of Music we had people like Evelyn Glennie still practising in the corridors, so the sense of ‘you heard it here first’ is always present at that kind of institution. I know most of the musicians who are listed on this recording, and while some have already graduated there are still a few finishing off their Master degree or other postgraduate studies at the time of writing. This is therefore an indication of things to come, both in terms of a new looking record label with audiophile ambitions and the newest generation of leading early music professionals. I would also add that this is by no means a vanity review or a cliquey puff. I always stick to the principle that, with all due respect to polecats, if something smells like a polecat then I will say it smells like a polecat. This is a recording which I am delighted to say can stand comparison with the best in its field, and is in no way smelly in any regard.

Extensive notes in Italian appear by harpsichord player Eduardo Valorz, and a more compact commentary by Leonard Kwon in the English section of the booklet notes. This could have done with a little expert editing, but has some helpful indicators and mentions that the composers on this programme have been chosen as being amongst the highest regarded in Venice and Naples in the 18th century. For many people I’m sure the word ‘Concerto’ conjures up an image of a larger ensemble than just four players and a soloist. It can come as something of a surprise to hear how full and satisfying such a compact band can sound, but those old composers knew what they were doing, and the instrumentation is designed to obtain the maximum effect from a minimum of means. Comparing Vivaldi’s famous Concerto ‘La Notte’ with another distinguished example, I was interested to hear how much difference there would be between Dan Laurin’s recording with the Drottingholm Baroque Ensemble on BIS-CD-635. This has a double bass instead of the bassoon and theorbo to reinforce the lower lines, and this can give a more emphatic foundation to the entire sound. I do like the bassoon’s extra little ‘filler’ comments at the end of the second Largo movement and, other than a more rounded resonance the difference is ultimately not so great. Laurin is more adventurous with his ornamentation of the lines in this movement and plays with a more individualistic character than Kwon in general, adding vibrato and all kinds of other tricks. Whether you prefer this will be down to a question of taste. Some may feel Laurin goes too far in this direction, and such extra gilding can be more of a burden than a benefit for repeated listening rather than in the ‘vibe’ of a live concert. Where Concordi Musici’s recording has its advantages is in the nice little touches through the continuo parts, the various plucked strings adding subtle decoration and resonance throughout. Kwon proves his chops in the demanding central presto, and the delicate dissonances of the Il sonno movement are well shaped, if a little loose in terms of vertical ensemble discipline on a few of the shifts. This is a very good beginning however, and the promise of ‘La notte’ is delivered on in the rest of the recording.

In a well planned programme, the recorder pieces are contrasted nicely with a well played Concerto in D major RV93 with guitar soloist Cristian Gutierrez picking his way nimbly around Vivaldi’s complex figurations. The baroque guitar has a smaller resonance than the modern instrument, with harmonics which reflect the narrower shape of the body. This is a nice sound however. The beautiful central Andante largo is very atmospheric, and the outer movements have plenty of masculine Mediterranean strumming which comes across very effectively in this recording.

All of the other Vivaldi concertos are played with equal verve and character, the bassoon adding pungency to the bass lines, and the harpsichord continuo given just the right amount of crisp presence. With an excellent stereo spread and high definition for all of the instruments in these recordings, the only slight disappointment in terms of the production is the change in set-up given to the Sonata No.4 in A minor by Francesco Mancini. This is given a different recorded perspective for some reason, with the harpsichord rather narrow and recessed; the recorder now placed more to the right and bassoon to the left. This is by no means a bad recording, but compared against the generosity of air and lightness of touch with the instrumental colours in the other pieces it doesn’t have quite the same all-embracing attractiveness. The final work on the disc, Alessandro Scarlatti’s Sonata No.9 in A minor uses all instrumental forces and we’re back in business with the balance for the Vivaldi concertos. This is a piece with some magnificent moments: the climax of the energetic central Fuga is highly uplifting, and there is plenty of wit and a great sense of fun in the final Allegro.

Initial availability for this release is likely to be a little patchy due to its Korean label’s position, though I’m told the CD will have wider distribution and mainstream download options which can easily be found. More information on Concordi Musici can be seen on their website. This is an ensemble which deserves every success, and I commend their debut recording wholeheartedly.

Dominy Clements

Wholeheartedly commended.